We strain to improve, each of us separately and all of us, as a species.
You’re motivated to get better, pushed by forces inside and often outside of yourself: Hunger, thirst, your dad, your mom, your coach, your deep fear of what happens if you fall short of your goal, your hatred of the bite of losing.
It’s obvious to talk about motivation in sport because the goals are clear and discrete. The score tells the world if you succeeded, a batting average points to your consistency, a trophy is the symbol of your triumph over a small group of people at a particular time. You’re drawn to sport precisely because of this clarity.
These rewards are the result of years of struggle. You made and are still making the decision to risk failing and, at the same time, consciously taking the harder path. Wouldn’t it be easier to take it easy? Look at that guy, he’s watching the ball game, sipping a beer. That urge to pack it in and sit down is what the writer Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.
Pressfield wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, the story of a talented golfer in the Deep South who turned away from the game because he was afraid of what he might become. Later, he wrote about the struggle to create in The War of Art; exposing yourself to failure, ridicule and regret are all elements of what he labels Resistance: the force that wants you to sit down and give up.
It’s the same for achieving excellence in sport. Your brain is wired with the same primal fears as the writer, the artist and the entrepreneur. Your excellence comes from lonely, sweaty effort and winning the battle over the urges to quit.
But to say we have to work is only half of it. Not only do we have to work, but we have to perform that work in the teeth of fear, isolation, self-doubt and self-sabotage. Often we have to labor in the face of opposition—fierce opposition—from the people closest to us, who love us the most and whom we love and whose approval we seek. We have to fight our bosses, our mentors, our religions, our pasts and our beliefs about ourselves and what we’re capable of. – Steven Pressfield
This is why we love our heroes out on the field. They show us what’s possible if we overcome Resistance.
It’s why people look at you differently than that guy sipping a beer.